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Friday, March 29, 2013

Media Matters: Forbes Reaches To Find Wind Power Fatalities

This article from Media Matters breaks down the overstated safety risks of wind power (released in a recent Forbes article). This type of misinformation is embarrassing, and we applaud Shauna Theel for this article, breaking down and analyzing the numbers. Find the original posting of this article here.

In a column for Forbes, the head of the Institute for Energy Research exaggerated the safety risks associated with wind power by including suicides, murders, and several other fatalities that have little to do with wind industry safety in order to misleadingly claim that the oil and gas is "one of the safest" industries.

Robert Bradley Jr., the CEO of the fossil fuel industry-funded Institute for Energy Research, claimed that wind turbines "present significant safety risks for humans," adding: "Since the 1970s, 133 fatalities have occurred on turbines -- that's a high figure considering the relatively small size of the wind sector." That figure comes from ananti-wind group whose list includes a wind plant construction worker shot during a protest against the plant, a wind turbine operator found hanging in an apparent suicide, a man who committed suicide after opposition to wind turbines on his land, a man that died while climbing a turbine for a class, a snowmobile hitting the fence around a wind farm construction site, and a "shirtless and shoeless" man electrocuted inside of a windmill.

More credible statistics show that in 2012 there were 12 wind industry deaths worldwide -- eight of which were in China where workplace safety standards are lax. In the U.S., the American Wind Energy Association hasallied with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to train workers on fall, electrical, and crane hazards. By comparison, 1,384 people died in coal mine accidents in China last year, and sulfur pollution alone contributes to about 400,000 premature deaths in China annually.

Estimates of the number of deaths per terawatt hour based on data from the World Health Organization and occupational safety statistics have also found that fossil fuels contribute to far more deaths than wind energy:

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Journal Times editorial: Homegrown solar generation makes sense for Wisconsin

An editorial from The Journal Times about how Wisconsin could benefit from new solar legislation. Find the original posting of this article here.

Unlike many other states, Wisconsin hasn’t fully taken advantage of the potential for energy savings through the expansion of homegrown solar generation.
That could change under a bipartisan proposal by state Reps. Gary Tauchen, R-Bonduel, and Chris Taylor, D-Madison, who are crafting legislation that would exempt owners of renewable generation at a home or business from being regulated as a public utility.
The heart of the proposal is that it would allow third-party ownership of solar systems — allowing solar companies to come in and install solar generation systems and assume the upfront costs and then have the business or homeowner repay that over time through savings on their energy bills.
It’s a plan that has been adopted in other states to good effect. Carl Siegrist, a solar energy consultant, said nearly three-fourths of the solar market last year came from third-party ownership, according to a recent story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
While the upfront costs of solar installation have dropped considerably in recent years — some reports put the drop at 50 percent — those initial costs still represent a hurdle for renewable energy, and the Tauchen-Taylor bill could help Wisconsin businesses and homeowners to clear that barrier.
According to a recent Milwaukee Business Journal report, the return on investment for solar installations is between seven and 10 years. But after that, the solar systems could provide low- or no-cost energy for another 30 years.
One of the companies that’s been a fan of third-party ownership is Kohl’s Corp., which has contracted with SunEdison for installation of solar generating panels at many of its stores in other parts of the country. The Milwaukee newspaper report said those Kohl’s department stores generate “three times as much power as all the solar electricity being generated in Wisconsin today.”
“If there was third-party ownership allowed, they would have it on every one of their stores in the state,” the report quoted Steve Johnson, a solar energy developer in Delavan.
That kind of impact not only saves energy and dollars, but it would buoy Wisconsin’s economy by creating a potential groundswell of solar installations and the attendant jobs that work would create across the state.
The fly in the ointment is opposition from the state’s utility industry, which argues that increased use of renewable energy would create “partial customers” and reduce their sales. This would result in a cost shift to regular customers because the fixed costs for poles, wires and business operations would be spread across those users.
That’s a legitimate concern and we would hope it could be addressed in the legislation, but it is not dissimilar from the effects of energy conservation and those efforts have been pushed by the state — and by utilities themselves — for decades.
A low-cost financing system to encourage the use of solar generation makes sense for the long-term energy profile of Wisconsin and we urge the Legislature to give this bill the bipartisan support it deserves.

Find the original posting of this article here.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Keep state wind farm rule intact - WSJ

Epic Systems of Verona has erected six
wind turbines along Kickaboo Road near
Highway 12 in the town of Springfield.
A timely editorial (relating to the SB-71 proposal) in the Wisconsin State Journal about why Wisconsin should keep it's wind siting rules intact. Find the original posting here.

The state regulation of wind farms that Wisconsin put in place a year ago improves on the previous patchwork of local regulations.

That’s one reason why lawmakers should leave the regulation intact and reject the latest proposal to turn back to the patchwork approach.

Here’s another reason: A return to patchwork regulation would threaten the public’s interest in developing clean, renewable energy.

Wisconsin’s wind farm regulations set standards for projects, including how far turbines must be set back from nearby homes and how noisy the turbines can be. If local governments develop their own regulations, they cannot be more restrictive than the state standards.

To develop the standards, the Public Service Commission considered a range of viewpoints and studied scientific evidence on the effects of wind turbines. The resulting regulations fairly protect local interests in safety and property rights as well as the general interest in taking advantage of a green energy source.

Nonetheless, wind farm opponents continue to argue for more restrictions. This month, a group of lawmakers introduced Senate Bill 71 to permit local governments to go beyond the state regulations. Bill supporters have seized upon a study of a Brown County wind farm. The study, conducted by acoustics experts, detected largely inaudible, low-frequency sound inside three homes near the wind turbines. The study also noted that some residents complained of health problems, such as nausea and headaches.

However, the study could link the noise in only one home to a turbine. Furthermore, the study could not attribute the health complaints to the noise. The indecisive findings do not offer evidence to change the state’s regulations.

Lawmakers should appreciate the perils of putting the regulatory burden for wind farms on local governments.

First, local governments typically lack the time and resources the PSC employed to study the issue. Before the state standards were developed, some local governments rushed into extreme regulation without scientific foundation. Trempealeau County required turbines to be set back one mile from neighboring homes. That restriction virtually banned wind farm development.

Second, without state standards, the wind energy industry faces the uncertainty of a varying collection of costly local regulation. The chilling effect deprives the state of wind power development.

The effects of wind turbines should continue to be examined. Regulations may need future updating. But Wisconsin cannot afford to go backward in regulation. Wind power is too important for its potential to improve energy security, reduce air pollution and boost economic development.

Find the original posting of this article here.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Wind turbine sickness 'all in the mind': study

 Lenore Taylor, Chief Political Correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald,  debunks "wind turbine sickness". See the original posting of this article here.

A new study has found that 63 per cent of Australia’s 49 wind farms have never been the subject of any health complaint from nearby residents. Photo: Nicolas Walker
''Wind turbine sickness'' is far more prevalent in communities where anti-wind farm lobbyists have been active and appears to be a psychological phenomenon caused by the suggestion that turbines make people sick, a study has found.

The study found that 63 per cent of Australia's 49 wind farms had never been the subject of any health complaint from nearby residents.

It found 68 per cent of the 120 complaints that have been made came from residents living near wind farms heavily targeted by the anti-wind farm lobby, and that ''the advent of anti-wind farm groups beginning to foment concerns about health (from around 2009) was also strongly correlated with actual complaints being made''.

Study author, Simon Chapman, professor of public health at Sydney University, said the results suggested that ''wind turbine sickness'' was a ''communicated disease'' – a sickness spread by the claim that something was likely to make a person sick. This was caused by the ''nocebo effect'' – the opposite of the placebo effect – where the belief something would cause an illness created the perception of illness.

He found a much greater correlation between negative attitudes to wind turbines and reports of sickness than any ''objective measures of actual exposure''.

And he cited studies suggesting that the spread of communicated diseases was much faster when the ''illness'' had a name – such as Wind Turbine Syndrome, Vibro Acoustic Disease and Visceral Vibratory Vestibular Disturbance.

Professor Chapman also cites a recent New Zealand study in which some healthy volunteers were exposed to actual ''infrasound'' – the sub-audible noise from wind farms claimed to cause health problems – and others to complete silence, which they had been told was ''infrasound''. In both cases the volunteers who had been told about the potential harmful effects of infrasound were more likely to report symptoms.

There have been several parliamentary inquiries into concerns about the health impacts of wind farms and the National Health and Medical Research Council is conducting a second study into the available medical evidence for the health complaints.

Parliament recently rejected a private members bill by independent Senators Nick Xenophon and John Madigan, which would have removed government subsidies from wind farms operating above certain noise levels.

But the Coalition has said that if it is elected in September it will hold another ''expert'' inquiry into wind farm noise.

The most recent Senate inquiry into the issue found no causal link between the noise from wind farms and symptoms reported by those who lived near them, but accepted that people were reporting that they felt unwell.

After a ''rapid review'' in 2010 NHMRC said there was ''insufficient published scientific evidence'' to link wind turbines with adverse health effects.

But some residents have continued to report suffering from sleep deprivation, stress and serious long-term health problems.

See the original posting of this article here: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/political-news/wind-turbine-sickness-all-in-the-mind-study-20130315-2g4zd.html#ixzz2O5v0FOVS

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Heating the Midwest with Renewable Biomass

For all of you folks interested in biomass, check out this conference coming up:


Additionally, you can download the flyer or the full conference program.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Proposed bill looks to light up Wisconsin's solar sector

A great article from Tom Content at JS Online on the third-party ownership bill. Find the original article here.

State's electric utilities oppose move to allow third-party solar financing

Wisconsin is missing out on a wave of solar power development that's going on around the country.

One example: Kohl's Department Stores around the country generate three times as much power as all the solar electricity being generated in Wisconsin today.

What's driving the boom in other states is third-party financing, which allows a company such as SunEdison, a builder of solar power plants, to own the panels on the roof of a Kohl's store. That's not allowed in Wisconsin, but would be under a bill being drafted in Madison.

The proposal, backed by a group of clean energy companies and the Wisconsin Farmers Union, faces opposition from the lobbying group for the state's electric utilities.

The utilities worry that such a change would open the door to more renewable energy and drive up costs for other ratepayers.

The legislation is being crafted by Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) and Rep. Gary Tauchen (R-Bonduel). It's expected to be among a host of energy issues that may come before the Legislature now that the debate over mining legislation is finished.

The change would exempt owners of renewable generation at a home or business from being regulated as a public utility. Supporters say it's a low-cost step that would stimulate economic development in the form of increased investment by solar installers that have moved work to states that are encouraging renewable energy.

"This will open up the renewable energy market to companies that don't have a lot of money lying around to finance clean energy projects," said Michael Vickerman, policy director for Renew Wisconsin, a clean energy advocacy group.

For Renew Wisconsin, the effort could make up ground lost in recent years after the failure to expand the state's renewable energy standard, and following moves by state regulators and utilities to shift their focus away from support for customer-owned renewable systems.

The markets where solar has taken off are dominated by those that permit third-party ownership, said Carl Siegrist, a solar energy consultant who was a renewable energy strategist at We Energies.

"Nearly three-fourths of the solar market last year came from third-party ownership," said Siegrist, who discussed the proposal at the recent Sustainability Summit in Milwaukee.

At stores around the country, Kohl's buys power from SunEdison, which built the panels on the roofs of the Kohl's stores.

"If there was third-party ownership allowed, they would have it on every one of their stores in the state," said Steve Johnson of solar energy developer Convergence Energy, which developed a solar project in Delavan.

Fears of cost shifting

Utilities are concerned that the proposal could lead to higher rates.

According to Bill Skewes, who heads the Wisconsin Utilities Association, the lobbying arm for the utility industry, the biggest concern is that utilities will see cost shifting because they will sell less power to customers who install solar systems.

The fixed costs of paying for the poles, wires and day-to-day business operations of the utility would then have to be spread across the remaining customers, he said in a memorandum to lawmakers on the issue.

"The customers who become partial customers because of a distributed generation agreement would be subsidized by the other customers on the utility system," Skewes said.

Supporters of the renewable energy shift see potential for helping farmers address their phosphorus and manure challenges by enabling them to put up more anaerobic digesters.

But, Skewes said, "advocates that want to help farmers may, in the next breath, decry the utility rate increases that further discourage economic development at a time when Wisconsin is trying to foster job growth."

Supporters concede that the shifts could help businesses that install solar generation avoid some of the rate pressure in Wisconsin, and it could result in reduced power sales by utilities.

At the same time, they note that utilities see lower sales every time a business takes steps to cut energy waste or replaces an incandescent light bulb with an LED bulb.

Making solar affordable

Nationwide and worldwide, solar development is booming, with solar generation now reaching more than 6,000 megawatts, or enough to supply 1 million homes, according to GTM Research.

While the price of solar systems is coming down quickly - it has fallen by 50% over five years - companies are conserving cash rather than looking for places to spend it.

So when an efficiency consultant such as Johnson Controls Inc. contracts with a building owner to help cut energy waste, the upfront cost is paid for by Johnson Controls, not the utility customer. The customer then pays Johnson back over time through the savings on energy bills.

The renewable proposal works the same way, said Amy Heart, solar program manager for the City of Milwaukee. The solar company would pay the upfront costs, with the customer paying a fixed price over time for the power generated by the panels.

"We see the opportunity to not only support our solar industry, but we also have the opportunity to reduce our energy costs and lock in those rates for a 10- to 20-year term, which is that consistency we're looking for," Heart said. "In the long run, if we can lower our energy bills for taxpayers, that's the idea."

It's a way to lock in prices over time from solar, even if utility rates go up, Siegrist said.

The proposal also overcomes one of the biggest hurdles facing renewable energy - that its upfront cost makes it affordable to a select few.

(See the original posting of this article here.)

Friday, March 15, 2013

SeeingRED: Doug Stingle on Clean Energy Choice for Wisconsin

Doug Stingle, the MREA Development Director, wrote this great article on why Wisconsin needs options for third-party ownership - it's clear we need Clean Energy Choice legislation to boost renewable markets.  (See the original posting on SeeingRED here).

The US solar electric (PV) market is booming. In fact, according to the Solar Electric Industries Association (SEIA), the residential solar electric market grew 12% over the 2nd quarter of 2012 and had its largest quarter in history. Wow, that is some impressive growth that many industries would be boasting about for quite some time. Of course, the solar industry is proud of the market growth and does some bragging about their success.
However, living in Wisconsin, you would never hear about the growth of the solar market, because the solar market in Wisconsin is stagnant.
So where are all these solar panels getting installed? According to SEIA in the 3rd quarter of 2012 (the most recent period statistics are available), Wisconsin ranked 26th in installation of solar electric capacity. Unsurprisingly, California ranked number one for installed capacity of solar in 2012, with Arizona a close second. California is a sunny state with a great solar resource, but that is not completely what is driving the installations there. The number one driver of home-sited solar systems is a third-party ownership model.
clean_energy_choice_featured
How does this work? First, you contact Company X and let them know you are interested in solar on your house. Next, Company X does an assessment on your home to see if the solar resource is adequate, and then the company looks over your electric bills to properly size a system. Company X can then come back and offer you the opportunity to install solar on your house, with no upfront costs, and save money on your monthly electric bills.
For example, let’s say you are paying $90 a month on your current utility bill. Company X can offer you the option of installing solar, and you pay Company X $80 a month as a result. Company X is the owner of the solar system, and you buy the energy produced from the solar array on your home. Company X is able to offer you the chance to reduce your electric bill and utilize solar, because the company is able to take a tax break on the installed system cost as well as sign a net-metering agreement with the local utility, allowing the company to sell any excess electricity generated by the solar system back to the utility.
Who wouldn’t want solar installed on their house and to pay less on their electric bills, all with no upfront cost? Almost everyone. So why aren’t thousands of Wisconsinites lining up to get solar on their roofs?
In Wisconsin we have just two options when it comes to electricity at our home:
  • We connect to the local utility company.
  • We generate and store our own power.
This gives the utility companies a virtual monopoly on power supply, as most people don’t have the resources to pay for all of the power up front. A third-party owned renewable energy generation system, as an option, is currently in legal limbo in Wisconsin.
clean_energy_choice_2
The arrangement is neither legal nor illegal. The Public Service Commission in Wisconsin has advised that any power generating facility that is not owned by the same entity where it is located, is in fact, a utility and subject to utility regulations. This sort of legal gray area has a chilling effect on third-party owned solar systems, as companies aren’t keen on possibly facing legal action that would cut into their bottom line. Why take the chance on a possibly illegal installation in Wisconsin when this arrangement is perfectly legal in many other states?
In addition, this legal black hole is preventing schools and non-profits from partnering with a third-party who can take advantage of tax incentives that a non-profit cannot, to install solar at their location. Third-party owned renewable energy systems are great drivers of the market and are employing thousands of workers manufacturing solar components and installing systems.
The solar market is booming because of these third-party owned systems. How can we get more installed in Wisconsin and create homegrown energy and jobs?
We need clean energy choice legislation that allows third parties to own energy generation sited at customer locations and to not be regulated as a utility. Clean Energy Choice is a matter of fairness. We need to create competition in the energy market. Free market supporters can easily see this as a case of government being in the way of the free market.
Write, call or email your state representative and Governor Walker and tell them to make Wisconsin open for (renewable energy) business and to support giving Wisconsin residents a clean energy choice. Also visit www.renewwisconsin.org and sign on to the letter of support for clean energy choice.
Doug Stingle
(See the original posting of this article on SeeingRED here).

Thursday, March 14, 2013

BioForward: From Pi Day to Biogas

Below is a post from Nicole Sandler on the BioForward blog. If you're interested in bio in Wisconsin, checkout their website for more information. See this article in it's original posting here.

My first post for Biotech in Wisconsin was scheduled for the week of March 11, which as many scientists know includes Pi Day. As we were exchanging ideas about a potential topic, I got an email from Laura Strong, who runs a cancer drug development company in Madison and created this blog, that said:
“I was thinking of something “fun” for Pi Day (March 14) like a pie contest, which got me thinking about cow pies. Cow pies led to a recollection that manure is being converted to energy – a sort of biotech mix of ag and energy…”
In case you aren’t familiar with Cow Pies, they are a candy made of pecans covered in caramel and chocolate. So there you have it – from the transcendental π to delicious desserts to actual cow poop to renewable energy!CowPie

Some initial searching on the topic of biogas revealed two data-rich documents, both relevant and informative. They serve as the sources for this basic background on where the state of Wisconsin stands on the concept of harvesting animal and plant waste to produce renewable fuel.

But first a quick explanation for those in the dark (like myself) on what exactly is meant by biogas. Biogas is produced from biomass, which can be thought of as animal and plant waste. As a renewable energy source biomass can be used directly or converted to a biofuel in any of three ways – thermal conversion, chemical conversion or biochemical conversion. Think of humans burning wood to make fire to produce heat. That is one of the most basic examples of how we use a biomass source to make energy.

Biogas is a gas that is produced by the breakdown of organic matter in the absence of oxygen – the biologists in the crowd recognize this as anaerobic digestion or fermentation. Typical sources of such biodegradable materials include manure, sewage, municipal waste, plant materials and crops; in other words, biomass. Biomass that is suitable for biogas production is referred to as “feedstock,” a term that figures prominently in the comprehensive reports and data available on this topic.

One such strategic report, Wisconsin Strategic Bioenergy Feedstock Assessment, was published last year by the Wisconsin Bioenergy Initiative (WBI). The report highlights that Wisconsin has a wide range of biomass, from crops to food and dairy processing facilities to dairy farms. Dairy manure was described as the “lowest hanging fruit” for biomass in Wisconsin. Based on detailed economic modeling, the report suggests that despite a strong forest product industry in WI, use of wood as biomass would impact prices.

The lead author of the report and Director of the WBI is Gary Radloff. Radloff is also Director of Midwest Energy Policy Analysis with the Wisconsin Energy Institute and considered an Expert in energy policy. When asked to comment on the role that biogas can play in our state, he had this to say:
“Wisconsin has the opportunity to a be a national leader in biogas energy with its robust dairy sector, large food processing sector, along with local government facilities such as wastewater treatment plants and landfill sites. Yet it may take some additional supportive public policy to push the opportunity to success due to current challenges in the energy economic marketplace today.”
Another influential organization working for more renewable energy is RENEW Wisconsin. RENEW Wisconsin is an independent, nonprofit sustainable energy advocacy organization that leads and represents statewide businesses, and individuals who seek more clean, renewable energy. Don Wichert, the organization’s interim executive director, provided some updated numbers to illustrate just where the state of Wisconsin stands on biogas:
“As of a few years ago we could boast of at least 100 biogas facilities – including over 35 wastewater treatment pants, 10 landfills, 40 animal digesters that use dairy manure and another 10 or so that use food waste.” Interestingly, one of these, at UW-Oshkosh, is the first commercial-scale dry fermentation anaerobic biodigester in the nation, and it provides the campus with five percent of its current energy and heating needs.
In other words, biogas is not new to the state of Wisconsin.Wisconsin Biodigester

As Wichert explains, these biogas facilities basically function by taking the waste, converting them to a 50:50 mix of methane and carbon dioxide which is then put that into an engine that turns a generator to produce electricity.
“We have a pretty solid basis for being the national leader in biogas production,” says Wichert. “Already we are very close to having the most in any state, and we could expand the number by a factor of four within the next ten years.” What this will require however, are a “few different policy tweaks.”
The Wisconsin State Energy Office also is involved in furthering the potential of biogas as a renewable energy source and recently published a forward-looking plan in partnership with Baker Tilly. The end result is a report backed up by a set of tools to do an initial evaluation of the viability of biogas projects, specifically in the areas of cheese production and dairy farms. While the economic modeling tool is a bit advanced, the map overlaps feedstocks and existing power/energy infrastructure.

Wisconsin seems to be striving to make its mark as a leader in harnessing biomass for renewable energy. With strong interest and resources, perhaps we could tap into the local biotech sector to address some of the quality of biomass concerns and help improve the conversion processes.

Wisconsin does have a few of these companies, most notably Virent, which was developed around its BioForming® platform. The novel process is able to accommodate renewable feedstocks required by Virent’s customers and in doing so converts plant-based materials into a wide range of petroleum-free products.

See the original posting of this article here.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

RENEW's Statement opposing SB 71

RENEW Wisconsin's policy director, Michael Vickerman, is submitting the following statement in opposition of Senate Bill 71 at today's hearing :

Statement of RENEW Wisconsin before the Government Operations, Public Works and Telecommunications Committee in Opposition to Senate Bill 71
March 13, 2013


Good afternoon, my name is Michael Vickerman, and I am submitting testimony today on behalf of RENEW Wisconsin, a nonprofit advocacy and education organization based in Madison.

Incorporated in 1991, RENEW acts as a catalyst to advance a sustainable energy future through public policy and private sector initiatives. We have over 250 total members, and more than 100 businesses around the state, including Bleu Mont Dairy (Mount Horeb), Crave Brothers Farm (Waterloo), Convergence Energy (Lake Geneva), Current Electric (Brookfield), DVO, Inc. (Chilton), Emerging Energies (Hubertus), Energy Concepts (Hudson), Full Circle Farm (Seymour), Full Spectrum Solar (Madison),  Kettle View Renewable Energy (Random Lake), Michels Wind Energy (Brownsville), Morse Group (Beloit), North American Hydro (Neshkoro), Northwind Renewable Energy LLC (Stevens Point), Pieper Foundation (Milwaukee), Organic Valley (LaFarge), Quantum Dairy (Weyauwega), Renewegy (Oshkosh), SunVest (Waukesha), Symbiont (Milwaukee), W.E.S. Engineering (Madison) and Werner Electric (Neenah).

On behalf of all our members that have an interest in advancing clean, locally produced, cost-effective wind generation, RENEW Wisconsin took the lead in bringing together diverse groups and companies and forging a broad and bipartisan coalition to support legislation establishing statewide permitting standards for all wind generators in the state of Wisconsin. The fruit of that labor, 2009 Act 40, was signed into law in September 2009.  As directed by the Wind Siting Law, the Public Service Commission promulgated PSC 128, a rule that sets forth uniform, science-based standards for local government review and regulation of wind power systems in Wisconsin. PSC 128 took effect on March 16, 2012.

In evaluating the merits of SB 71, RENEW asks the Committee to consider the following points:

  • In terms of setback distances as well as maximum allowable sound levels and shadow flicker duration, PSC 128 is the strictest statewide standard for permitting windpower systems in the United States. The provisions in PSC 128 are, on balance, stricter than the conditions specified in the prior permits issued by local governments or the PSC.
  • The statewide rule is the culmination of two uninterrupted years of agency involvement in wind siting proceedings. It is the product of a highly deliberative process that elicited substantial input from the Wind Siting Council and the public. The Siting Council looked at all the health-related studies that were in the public domain at that time, and tailored its recommendations accordingly. The record built on the major issues is nothing short of encyclopedic.
  • All 412 utility-scale wind turbines currently operating in Wisconsin were permitted before PSC 128 took effect a year ago. Because PSC 128 does not have a track record, there is no factual foundation for asserting that PSC 128 inadequately protects public health and safety.
  • An independent expert panel established by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Public Health gave wind a clean bill of health in January 2012, based on analyzing all available scientific studies. The agencies stated: “There is no evidence for a set of health effects from exposure to wind turbines that could be characterized as a 'Wind Turbine Syndrome'…we conclude the weight of the evidence suggests no association between noise from wind turbines and measures of psychological distress or mental health problems.” This is as true today as it was 14 months ago.
  • The PSC rule was intended to provide wind energy developers with regulatory certainty -- a clearly defined set of requirements which they must comply with in order to obtain a permit. This lack of certainty and predictability in the local permitting process would be paralyzing to wind developers and would bring wind development to a standstill.
  • The PSC rule was intended to provide wind energy developers with regulatory certainty -- a clearly defined set of requirements which they must comply with in order to obtain a permit. Allowing local governments to opt out of PSC 128 would undermine the chief rationale for the Wind Siting Law--uniform standards consistently applied across all jurisdictions in Wisconsin.  This lack of certainty, consistency and predictability in the local permitting process would be paralyzing to wind developers and would bring wind development to a standstill.
  • Allowing local governments to opt out of PSC 128 would jeopardize current proposals that have been configured to conform with PSC 128. It is extremely challenging to redesign windpower projects to meet different standards than those that informed the original proposal.

Restricting windpower development in Wisconsin will result in a net loss of construction and manufacturing opportunities in the clean energy sector, dry up investment and business start-up opportunities here at home, deprive local governments of a stable source of local payments, and force young adults committed to this career path to relocate to other states. In addition, passage of this bill would further exacerbate Wisconsin’s dangerous overreliance on imported fossil fuels, causing certain environmental harm.

For the reasons enumerated above, RENEW Wisconsin urges rejection of SB 71.

Respectfully submitted,
Michael Vickerman
Program and Policy Director
March 13, 2013

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Our view: Keep state's wind siting rules uniform

More on SB-71 (see our previous action alert post). You can also find RENEW's testimony, opposing this bill, submitted at the hearing March 13.  Below is an editorial published in the Sheboygan Press:

It has been a year since the Wisconsin Legislature reinstated a controversial rule that uniformly regulates wind energy operations in the state. The rule — PSC 128 — spells out what is allowed and not allowed for wind turbines throughout Wisconsin.

It accounts for such factors as size and allowable setbacks from roadways and buildings.

The Public Service Commission rule is not perfect, but is preferable to the patchwork approach it replaced. Now, a group of state lawmakers seeks to again allow municipalities greater latitude in skirting the PSC rules. It is a bad idea.

The Legislature’s primary opponent of current wind siting rules is state Sen. Frank Lasee. The Ledgeview Republican’s crusade includes advocacy on behalf of several 1st Senate District families who say they have suffered negative health effects from large wind turbines on or near their properties, including in Manitowoc and Brown counties.

Similar concerns are expressed in Sheboygan County, where EEW Services is proposing the four-turbine Windy Acres wind farm in the towns of Sherman and Holland. The effect of wind turbines on human health has been a subject of controversy for many years. Study results have proven inconclusive, however, and cannot at this point form the basis of policy changes.

Read on...

Our view: Keep state's wind siting rules uniform

More on SB-71 (see our previous action alert post). You can also find RENEW's testimony, opposing this bill, submitted at the hearing March 13.  Below is an editorial published in the Sheboygan Press:

It has been a year since the Wisconsin Legislature reinstated a controversial rule that uniformly regulates wind energy operations in the state. The rule — PSC 128 — spells out what is allowed and not allowed for wind turbines throughout Wisconsin.

It accounts for such factors as size and allowable setbacks from roadways and buildings.

The Public Service Commission rule is not perfect, but is preferable to the patchwork approach it replaced. Now, a group of state lawmakers seeks to again allow municipalities greater latitude in skirting the PSC rules. It is a bad idea.

The Legislature’s primary opponent of current wind siting rules is state Sen. Frank Lasee. The Ledgeview Republican’s crusade includes advocacy on behalf of several 1st Senate District families who say they have suffered negative health effects from large wind turbines on or near their properties, including in Manitowoc and Brown counties.

Similar concerns are expressed in Sheboygan County, where EEW Services is proposing the four-turbine Windy Acres wind farm in the towns of Sherman and Holland. The effect of wind turbines on human health has been a subject of controversy for many years. Study results have proven inconclusive, however, and cannot at this point form the basis of policy changes.

Read on...

Monday, March 11, 2013

ACTION ALERT: Hearing on SB 71 (Lasee's bill to Weaken the Wind Siting Rule)

A note from Michael Vickerman, RENEW's Policy Director:
Senator Frank Lasee’s bill to allow municipalities to “opt out” of the reasonable standards contained in PSC 128, Wisconsin’s wind siting rule, is rapidly moving through the state legislature. A Senate Committee will hold a public hearing on Senate Bill 71 on Wednesday, March 13 at 12:00 PM CST. This bill would have an immediate impact on projects currently under development and will jeopardize the future of the Wisconsin wind industry. 
We need your help opposing this bill. 
It is absolutely imperative that policymakers hear from Wisconsin supply chain businesses, construction companies, project developers, installers, and manufacturers on this bill. If you are able, it would be of great help if you could travel to Madison to testify at the upcoming public hearing. If you are not able to come in person, please contact me directly as there are several other ways to help (direct calls, written testimony, lending your company’s name to our testimony, etc.)
Stopping this bill will take a united effort. We hope that we can count on your support. 
The notice of the public hearing on SB 72 is below.
Thank you,
--Michael Vickerman Policy Director, RENEW Wisconsin.
mvickerman@renewwisconsin.org 608-255-4044 x. 2

Senate
PUBLIC HEARING
Committee on Government Operations, Public Works, and Telecommunications

The committee will hold a public hearing on the following items at the time specified below:
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
12:00 PM
330 Southwest
Senate Bill 39
Relating to: the notice and degree requirements for the examination to practice as a certified public accountant.
By Senators L. Taylor and Grothman; cosponsored by Representatives Kooyenga, Spiros, Knudson, Marklein, Kapenga, Steineke, Smith, Bernier, Sanfelippo and Stone.
Senate Bill 55
Relating to: costs of replacement or relocation of certain municipal utility facilities required by the construction of a freeway and eligibility for the safe drinking water loan program.
By Senators Cowles, Lasee and Lehman; cosponsored by Representatives Jacque, Weininger, Bernier, Brooks, Kahl, Klenke and Bernard Schaber.
Senate Bill 71
Relating to: limiting the regulation of wind energy systems by local governments.
By Senators Lasee, Ellis, Leibham, Grothman and Moulton; cosponsored by Representatives Jacque, Murtha, Bies, Endsley, Kestell, Klenke, Knudson, LeMahieu, Spiros and Thiesfeldt.
________________________
Senator Paul Farrow
Chair

ACTION ALERT: Hearing on SB 71 (Lasee's bill to Weaken the Wind Siting Rule)

A note from Michael Vickerman, RENEW's Policy Director:
Senator Frank Lasee’s bill to allow municipalities to “opt out” of the reasonable standards contained in PSC 128, Wisconsin’s wind siting rule, is rapidly moving through the state legislature. A Senate Committee will hold a public hearing on Senate Bill 71 on Wednesday, March 13 at 12:00 PM CST. This bill would have an immediate impact on projects currently under development and will jeopardize the future of the Wisconsin wind industry. 
We need your help opposing this bill. 
It is absolutely imperative that policymakers hear from Wisconsin supply chain businesses, construction companies, project developers, installers, and manufacturers on this bill. If you are able, it would be of great help if you could travel to Madison to testify at the upcoming public hearing. If you are not able to come in person, please contact me directly as there are several other ways to help (direct calls, written testimony, lending your company’s name to our testimony, etc.)
Stopping this bill will take a united effort. We hope that we can count on your support. 
The notice of the public hearing on SB 71 is below.
Thank you,
--Michael Vickerman Policy Director, RENEW Wisconsin.
mvickerman@renewwisconsin.org 608-255-4044 x. 2

Senate
PUBLIC HEARING
Committee on Government Operations, Public Works, and Telecommunications

The committee will hold a public hearing on the following items at the time specified below:
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
12:00 PM
330 Southwest
Senate Bill 39
Relating to: the notice and degree requirements for the examination to practice as a certified public accountant.
By Senators L. Taylor and Grothman; cosponsored by Representatives Kooyenga, Spiros, Knudson, Marklein, Kapenga, Steineke, Smith, Bernier, Sanfelippo and Stone.
Senate Bill 55
Relating to: costs of replacement or relocation of certain municipal utility facilities required by the construction of a freeway and eligibility for the safe drinking water loan program.
By Senators Cowles, Lasee and Lehman; cosponsored by Representatives Jacque, Weininger, Bernier, Brooks, Kahl, Klenke and Bernard Schaber.
Senate Bill 71
Relating to: limiting the regulation of wind energy systems by local governments.
By Senators Lasee, Ellis, Leibham, Grothman and Moulton; cosponsored by Representatives Jacque, Murtha, Bies, Endsley, Kestell, Klenke, Knudson, LeMahieu, Spiros and Thiesfeldt.
________________________
Senator Paul Farrow
Chair

Friday, March 1, 2013

Legislature Weighs “Nuclear” Option for Renewables



Only in Wisconsin will you find lawmakers who treat renewable energy as though it were radioactive.

A legislator from Brown County, Rep. Andre Jacque, has introduced a bill (AB 34) to incorporate nuclear energy within Wisconsin’s 14-year-old renewable electricity standard. The bill defines the terms under which utilities could apply the output from in-state nuclear power plants toward their existing 10% requirement, which would be renamed the Advanced and Renewable Portfolio Standard (ARPS). Right now, Wisconsin has three operating nuclear reactors at two locations five miles apart along Lake Michigan. 

Two of the three nuclear power stations--Point Beach units 1 and 2--are located within Rep. Jacque’s district. The adjoining district contains the other nuclear unit , the 560-MW Kewaunee Nuclear Power Plant owned by Dominion Resources, a Virginia-based utility holding company. Late in 2012, Dominion announced that it would shut down and decommission Kewaunee this spring, while cutting the plant’s 650-person workforce in half.

During its 39 years of operation, the Kewaunee plant pumped millions of dollars into local government coffers, a substantial revenue flow that will dry up some time after Dominion closes down the plant for good.  It will be quite a challenge for Kewaunee and Manitowoc counties to recover from the retirement of such a powerful economic engine.

But let’s be clear about one thing: state legislation cannot bring Kewaunee back to life. As Mark Kanz, a Dominion representative, said regarding Jacque’s legislation: “What we needed was a long-term power purchase agreement. I don’t see the market changing a whole lot any time in the near future, and what this really was all about was economics.” 

Over the last three years, Kewaunee has produced red ink as prodigiously as it has electricity, to the tune of $362 million. One can certainly understand why Dominion was so eager to sell it. But the only way an expensive plant like Kewaunee can generate profits is by convincing nearby utilities to pay a premium for its output under a long-term contract. 

Even Rep. Jacque and the other bill sponsors know better than to expect that outcome. As stated in their co-sponsorship memo: “A flood of cheap natural gas on the energy market and the failure to negotiate a long-term power purchase agreement make it very likely that Kewaunee will be closed … later this year.”

But AB 34 wouldn’t provide any immediate assistance to Wisconsin’s other nuclear generators at Point Beach either. That is because the legislation specifically exempts nuclear generation that is sold under an existing contract from qualifying for the renamed standard. With a power purchase agreement in place until 2031, Point Beach doesn’t need a helping hand from state government.  At this point, one might be forgiven for wondering who might benefit from this bill.

As for Wisconsin’s Renewable Electricity Standard (RES), there isn’t much kick remaining in it. Collectively, the utilities’ renewable percentages had already reached 8.88% by the end of 2011, and that was before Wisconsin’s largest wind project commenced operations.  Apart from a 50 MW biomass plant currently under construction, the utilities do not have plans right now to add more renewable generators to their systems. There is virtually no room left for any more qualifying energy sources, be they renewable or, if AB 34 clears the Legislature, nuclear.

Let’s make some comparisons. In 2006, the last year that both Kewaunee and Point Beach were utility properties, nuclear contributed about 18% of the electricity generated in Wisconsin, with each unit accounting for 6% of that total. Coincidentally, that was the year Wisconsin enacted its current RES, which specifies an increase in the percentage of renewable electricity sold in Wisconsin from 4% in 2004 to 10% by 2015. That’s a six percentage point difference, roughly equal to the output from Kewaunee or one of Point Beach’s two units.

Now, AB 34’s sponsors could have specified higher targets after 2015 to create room for a Point Beach unit or two, but they chose not to. This begs the question, how can a modest 10% renewable electricity standard that is 95% full accommodate the output of an existing Wisconsin nuclear station? How does the math work here?

The answer, of course, is it doesn’t. How this bill would yield anything of value to a nuclear plant operator is a complete mystery to anyone with a sixth-grader’s grasp of arithmetic. At this point, it makes sense to look through the more obscure provisions of AB 34 to pin down the underlying intent of this legislation.

To my way of thinking, the bill sponsors expose their true motives in the section dealing with so-called “resource” credits, which would replace the way renewable energy credits are currently created and accounted for. There, one stumbles upon a provision to remove the four-year limit on banking unused renewable energy credits. Should this provision ever find its way into the statutes, a utility would be able to apply kilowatt-hours generated from decades past to their current requirements. No other state with an RES lets their utilities bank surplus credits indefinitely.

When this proposal first surfaced in a stand-alone bill introduced in 2011, renewable electricity producers of all stripes--private and county-owned  landfill gas generators, dairy operations with biogas systems, small hydro owners, windpower companies and solar PV owners— banded together to denounce this attack. They understood all too well the real purpose behind giving renewable energy credits the gift of perpetual life, which is to render them valueless, thereby giving utilities all the room they need to drive the incremental price for renewable energy down to zero.  That bill died in 2012, but since then the indefinite banking provision has been resurrected and now lies deep within the nether reaches of AB 34.

What we have here, then, is a bill that uses the pretext of preserving the state’s nuclear generating assets to dismantle what remains of Wisconsin’s renewable energy policy. Not ones to accept the market realities precipitating Kewaunee’s forced retirement, the bill authors decided to craft a bill that aimed at hobbling the only other zero-carbon game in town: renewable energy.  The thought that seems to be driving AB 34’s sponsors is this:  If nuclear is going down, renewables are going down with it.

AB 34 is not the only bill that aims to weaken Wisconsin’s RES. Senator Glenn Grothman, a Republican from West Bend, is sponsoring legislation to roll back the renewable requirements on utilities down to 2011 levels. What is Sen. Grothman’s beef with renewable energy policy?  Simply put, he does not want wind turbines going up in his district, and he is convinced that the wind energy industry would dry up and blow away  without the RES. Of course, if his initiative were to become law, its impact would extend beyond windpower to all eligible renewable energy resources. In his quixotic quest to stamp out windpower in his district, Grothman appears willing to accept all the collateral damage to other renewables that would ensue.

To gauge how far renewable energy’s star has fallen in Wisconsin, one need not go farther back in time than 2006, when a Republican-controlled Legislature passed the 10% RES with only one dissenting vote. Even Senator Frank Lasee, the state’s most prominent antiwind crusader, voted for the RES, as did Grothman.  But the bipartisanship spirit alive in 2006 has completely curdled, and more than a handful of legislators are taking up cudgels against an energy pathway they had welcomed only seven years before.

Ironically, clean energy represents the best hope for creating new jobs and business opportunities for the individuals and communities that will be hit hard by Kewaunee’s retirement.  Between the 31 wind turbines erected in Kewaunee County 14 years ago and biodigester systems serving local dairy farms and food producers, clean energy has made substantial inroads in Manitowoc and Kewaunee counties, and has the potential to deliver much more. But progress will be difficult to attain when local legislators would rather score cheap political points than produce an energy bill that might actually benefit their constituents. 

Michael Vickerman is program and policy director of RENEW Wisconsin, a sustainable energy advocacy organization. RENEW Wisconsin is an independent, nonprofit 501(c)(3) that leads and represents businesses, and individuals who seek more clean, renewable energy in Wisconsin.  More information on RENEW’s Web site at www.renewwisconsin.org.